A fly-in fishing trip to a remote lake in northern Saskatchewan is an experience that anyone who loves the outdoors and fishing should consider doing.
I believe it’s lack of information that deters many fishermen from enjoying the fun of catching fish that have never seen a hook, and dining on daily shore lunches of fresh walleye fillets is a pristine setting that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
In a couple weeks, I will be heading up to Iskwatikan Lake Lodge for the third consecutive year. This year’s trip will be my fourth time to travel to Canada to fish.
The first trip several years ago was to an all-inclusive lodge with Chipewyan Indian guides. I enjoyed the full-service accommodations here and learned a few things about fishing for northern pike, walleye and Arctic grayling, but I much prefer the do-it-yourself fishing I’ve discovered at Iskwatikan Lake.
There are many remote fly-in fishing lodges in Canada with greatly varying costs. We pay just under $1,000 for five days of fishing on Iskwatikan Lake that includes the floatplane flights, cabin, boat, motor, fuel and fish cleaning. If you think about it, it’s pretty easy to spend that much in one month towing a boat to and camping at your local lake.
Before my first trip to Iskwatikan Lake Lodge, I was a bit concerned about finding my way around on the water, but once owner Bryce Liddell showed us a map of the lake, it became clear that navigating the waters would be easy.
A 15- or 20-minute boat ride in one of the 15-foot, V-nosed aluminum boats powered by a 20 HP engine will take you from one end of the lake to the other. Catching fish is easy and Liddell gives everyone a briefing as to which areas are producing best.
Slow trolling with walleye rigs attached to “bottom bouncers” is a popular way for catching walleye, but some anglers prefer to toss soft plastics. Regardless the technique, walleye are plentiful and you will catch a ton of them.
Big spoons or flashy Mepps spinners are great for enticing those big pike out of the shallow cover they love. After the spawn, giant lake trout stack up on one particular basketball-shaped deep hump just out from the lodge and fishing can be really good for them during early morning when they come near the surface to feed.
To sum it up, fishing is fantastic and tactics are easy to learn. We have never had to worry about not catching enough fish to eat for the next meal of fried, blackened or backed fish. The smaller pike are also excellent eating but require filleting skills that I have yet to learn.
The helpers at the camp take care of the filleting chores as soon as you pull your boat up to the dock. They can quickly remove the “Y” bones from eater-size pike, the end result being several snow-white fillets.
Getting there, at least for me, is half the fun. We book flights to Saskatoon and rent a car at the airport. The drive to Otter Lake where we meet the floatplane takes about 4.5 hours and it’s not uncommon to see deer, bear and moose during the drive. Saskatoon is a good-size city, at least for this part of the world and has a Walmart and Cabela’s where we stop and buy groceries and a few fishing supplies we might need.
The floatplane flight from Otter Lake takes about 12 minutes. Yes, I timed it last year. When looking down from the air at the thousands of lakes and streams, I always wonder if another human has ever fished or set foot on these remote spots.
At the end of the flight, you will see the fishing camp with several cabins, and if you look close, you will spot Liddell’s two-seater plane that he uses to shuttle supplies to and from his camp.
You and I might make a 10-minute trip to the store in our car for groceries – Liddell’s mode of travel is his airplane and in about 15 minutes, he can be at the store.
I spoke with Liddell this past week and the majority of ice had melted. There were still a few shaded areas with a little ice, but by the first week of June, the lake is ice-free and the fish are celebrating by going on a feeding binge. I guess they are glad to see the long northern winter come to an end.
Fishing begins in early June and lasts usually though September. Walleye are usually in shallow bays spawning in early June and it’s common to catch large numbers trolling with the bottom bouncer rigs.
After the spawn, they move out into the deeper water and stage around the many islands and pockets off the main lake. Pike are almost always found in areas with vegetation.
Last June, I tossed a spoon up into very shallow water in a remote bay and worked it slowly out toward the boat which was setting in about 5 feet of water. When the lure was 10 feet from the boat, I felt a powerful surge on the rod and knew I was hooked to something very big and very strong.
After a 10-minute battle, a 42-inch Northern Pike came boatside and into an awaiting net. I once caught a pike just a little longer that this one that had sunk his teeth into a 15-inch walleye I had hooked on a spinner.
He never took the hook but just held on to the walleye. My buddy netted him at the boat. He continued to keep his teeth locked into the walleye even after we got him in the boat. Northern Pike are vicious feeders and have become my favorite species to fish for.
I’ve estimated these do-it-yourself trips to fish the wilds of Saskatchewan cost a total of around $2,400, which includes everything from fishing license to airfare. If you might be interested in learning more about making that first trip up north, contact me through my website (catfishradio.org) for a link to Iskwatikan Lake Lodge. I’ll do what I can to help you make plans.